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it's a long way from whitley bay... Hi everyone and welcome to our journal where you can see and read what we've been up to and where we're going next. We hope you enjoy it, and would love you to keep in touch with your news, and send us your comments! Lots of love, Sarah and Phil x ;)

Toronto, Chicago and Route 66 (part 1)

USA | Tuesday, 29 July 2008 | Views [2794] | Comments [4]

Hi everyone,

We've clocked up 3000 miles now on our road trip across the states, and have just seen a sign for Miami out of the window... hang on a minute, didn't we tell everyone we were following the pioneers and heading out west?

Actually we are still on track and it's Miami, Oklahoma we've just passed... phew! They have a habit of doing that around here. We've almost lost track of the number of Springfields we've driven through (and not a single one inhabited by yellow cartoon characters either;). But yes, we have made it pretty much to the half way point already after a busy few days on the road...

We spent our last night in Canada having a delicious meal at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, which has amazing views as you'd expect, but to our surprise, was made particularly memorable by a huge thunderstorm, which we got to see close up at 400 metres above ground, and from every angle as the restaurant revolved through 360 degrees. Not recommended for the faint-hearted!

The view up - and down - from the scary CN Tower

We really liked Toronto though - it has funky shopping areas a-plenty, loads going on in terms of music, art, film etc. Plus the great lakes are right on the door step (or stoop as they'd have it round here). The people that live here all looked sort of wholesome, but fashionable and are obviously pretty clever to live somewhere so nice but cheap too. Irritating really.

The new extension to the Royal Ontario Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind (who also has the commission for the new World Tade Centre site in NY)

The Toronto-ites have also managed to pick up on some of the best things about US restaurants (friendly waitresses, free coffee refills, fresh ingredients) whilst having the good sense to leave the '6 free donuts with every side salad' - mentality to their southern neighbours. No drive-thru gyms for these guys!

We made some progress back towards donut-land that night (sorry - we'll stop all this rudeness soon!) - and stayed in a town called Hammond, just south of Lake Michigan, then made an early start next morning as we were headed all the way to not so windy, but hot and sunny city, Chicago.

This actually was a slight change of plan from the original, which had us headed in a big northern loop round the lakes and via the Upper Michigan peninsular. We were put off doing this by the Michigan slogan though - "if it is a beautiful peninsular you seek, look around you"... For goodness sake. We were also slightly put off by the fact that it would have meant a 500 mile detour with no time to stop to appreciate the beauty of said peninsular. Which we are sure you will agree, would have been a great shame!

The more direct route to Chicago took us fairly quickly through
Michigan, skirting around Detroit (apparently they build a lot of
cars there so they can get out quick...), and on into Indiana. The scenery is really quite pleasant here, with giant fields of corn
looking for all the world like the home of the jolly green giant and purty white clapboard houses all along the road - mostly draped in stars and stripes and with an old boy catching some shade out on the verandah. All very picturesque.

There are also some of the largest Amish communities anywhere in this
part of Indiana, and sure enough we saw lots of people in horse drawn
carts, dressed in traditional clothing and just going about their
business, trying not to get run over by the giant trucks (or Rav 4s!)
steaming through on their way out west.

Amish folk - Shipshewana, Indiana (photos taken with paparazzi-like subtlety out of the car window...)

We stopped off in a couple of the villages to have a look around - and had a delicious cherry (Sarah) and banana cream (phil) pie in a lovely Amish-run place in Middlebury. Just in the interests of cultural enlightenment you understand...

We stayed just outside of Chicago that night, in a cheap motel next to a Best Western - so we could go to their restaurant and borrow their wifi for free tee hee!

We then had a full day in Chicago on Thursday. Its a really nice city with some amazing architecture - new and old - and, coming as a surprise to us, several beaches.
Some things we saw in Chicago
Chicago is located on the edge of Lake Michigan, and the residents know how to make the most of it - they have created beaches which spread out to the east of the city - and they were chock full of sunbathers, people playing volleyball or just hanging out at beach side bars.
One of Chicago's lovely beaches - a bit of a different atmos these days to the gritty world of Al Capone!
We walked the whole stretch, stopping for ice cream despite it apparently being 'Christmas in July' (?) and to jump out of the way of people learning to ride 'segways' - which are rather awkward looking two-wheeler motorised buggy type things that seem to be flavour of the month round here.
Get a calendar (and a bike) we say
Leaving Chicago on Friday meant making like Jack Kerouac and joining route 66 - which will take us all of the way through the Great Plains, the mid-west, and eventually to sin city itself. No, not Watford, Las Vegas...

Our first day on the 'mother road' went pretty much to plan. We drove about 1/3 of it, mostly on freeways that have been laid over the original brick road, though there are also still some original sections to follow, varying from Devon-ish single-lane dirt tracks to dusty two lane highways. And they didnt even have su doku to kill time!
No wonder so many great inventions have come out of this country. If it weren't for all those long car journeys maybe they'd never have got around to dreaming up drive through ATM machines, buckaroo, or space hoppers... we were grateful for the invention of air con anyway - it's been hitting 100 degrees most days - and that we could make steady progress on the surprisingly empty freeway sections.

This made time for diversions on to the old sections of road and for stops to see various original landmarks - there are some great old gas stations, neon signs and billboards and after a few stops at some real old skool diners, we were beginning to feel just like extras in 'Happy Days'. Its just a shame that Phil left his 'the Fonz' jacket behind in Japan, there surely would have been waitresses on roller skates flocking in no time!

English visitors still seem to be rare enough to raise a few
eyebrows in these parts, and we were a bit of a conversation point
on a few occasions (you're driving how far??).
For example, in Litchfield , IL, we got chatting to a farmer who was on a trip with his sons to buy a new boat trailer. He didn't actually seem to believe that we had really come all of the way from London and asked us a few questions, perhaps by way of a test...

"so you don't have too many farms in England then?"
(no, not many in London but there are some left elsewhere..)
"no corn 'n' no beans huh. That's something ain't it"
(well we mostly go to the supermarket but we might try and develop our 3
square feet of land into a herb / aromatherapy garden when we get
"uhuh. How much does a five bedroom house cost in London these days then?"
(wild guess - a million dollars - we don't know either)

"you folks must be totally outta your minds!! Well you enjoy your
trip now and come by our farm of you wanna place to stay a few days..."
Maybe he had a point...

One other interesting stop was in Springfield, Illinois, which was where
Abraham Lincoln spent his early years. As well as his childhood
home, lawyers office, favourite laundrette blah blah blah, you can
also visit an excellent new museum all about his life, the abolition
of slavery, and the civil war.
It was put together extremely well, with some really interesting
original articles (like the actual Gettysburg address), plus more
high tech stuff like a white house reconstruction and a modern-day
style newscast of what his election campaign might have looked like
if it were today. Well worthwhile stopping by for a couple of hours.
Even if our budget is now in serious jeopardy as a result of the
gift shop's collection of fridge magnets and Abe-style beards
tempted us into a few purchases...

In the afternoon we made another stop at a place called Cahakia, on the outskirts of St. Louis. Here they have discovered the site of the largest ancient civilisation north of Mexico - at one time home to 20,000 people! It had suburbs and everything. All that's left today though are
some earthen mounds and a museum, so you have to use your imagination a
bit but again, it was really well done, and it was good to reflect a while on how much change this part of the world has seen.

The site of the ancient city of Cahakia now, and how it might have once looked
You also get a good view of St. Louis's giant gateway from the top
of the main mound...
This might be the best way to see St. Louis, which by all accounts is one badass place closer up, pretty impoverished and with big crime problems. It is also apparently so polluted that its river caught fire! And we thought London was bad... We made a speedy exit anyway, and got back on the road for Springfield (this one in Missouri - keep up!) for the night.

We stayed in a brilliant motel (the Rail Inn) which had been fully
restored to its 50s glory, and was also just up the road from an
original Steak 'n' Shake diner, where Sarah had a steak and a shake
(of course) and Phil had a salad... hopefully we'll not be arrested
for this most strange and out of town-like behaviour!
The Rail Inn


Day 2 on route 66 took us another 450 miles, out of Missouri, briefly
through Kansas (just missed the Wizard of Oz tornados thankfully) and across most of Oklahoma. We put in more driving hours on slightly older roads (about 9 1/2 hrs total) and stopped a little less.

The view out of the window shifted gradually as we headed further south west, and there are fewer fields of corn, more fields with cows, and there seems to be a greater variety of housing - some richer, some much poorer.

You also of course notice more country music on the radio, and more
'God is your true friend, so repent or else he gonna getcha' - type messages start to provide variation from the endless gas prices debates...

Possibly our favourite sign so far: 'What would Jesus eat?' (a tasty mixed grill at 'The Crossing' apparently...)

We did have time to stop for a sneaky peaky at Carthage, a nice old-fashioned Missouri town with a fancy courthouse, and, slightly incongruously, a British vintage car rally going on.

We also stopped in Tulsa, where it really was very, very hot - to the
point where there was no - one really around, and many of the shop's
had shut, despite it being Saturday afternoon. We actually saw tumbleweed drifting about! The quietness meant we could stick our feet in the nice street fountains in peace, and cool off before leaving for Elk City, Oklahoma, where we spent saturday night.

No elk sightings to report, but plenty of cheap cow on offer at the local eatery. Phil has also now given up on the healthy eating 'plan' and we both tucked into beef tacos before hitting the sack in preparation for making our way to the wild wild west...

However, this entry has now gone on for almost as long as route 66 itself, so we'll let you get on with something more useful now and tell y'all about that in our next entry...

Thanks for sticking with us everybody - only a few more of these to go now!

Lots of love,

Sarah and Phil x x



Hi Sarah and Phil,
This is Dad replying from Anna's computer under the stairs where we have just been enjoying reading your latest missive.
Good to read that you have been enjoying a shake (along with those LA residents). Ooops.just tried to shuffle the seat forwards and banged my head on the ceiling.I like your efforts to educate mid-west farmers about agricultural practices in the UK you could have mentioned that Dad grows beans on the allotment.
We've been on a steam train ride from Keighley to Haworth (heart of Bronteland) today - a lovely sunny day and good fun, Anna off to have her jabs for India tomorrow morning then we're hoping to do some more digging and tidying up on her allotment in the afternoon before heading off for home.
Well, that should have given Mum and Anna enough time to do the washing up so it should be safe for me to emerge from my troglodytic life and ask if anyone's made a cup of tea.
Mum and Anna say Hello and Hola,
Enjoy yourselves;

  Dad Barton Jul 30, 2008 5:57 AM


wow- that was a long blog! Cant believe how fast you are getting across america. we received a postcard from rio today sent on the 16th june!!!!Had my india jabs today which were totally painless in themselves but i dont seem to be able to lift my arms up now! think i need to go to bed soon. Mum and dad went home today. We had a lovely time- great BBQ in the sun withn `Simon on monday followed by some allotment work. Tuesday we went to Haworth on an original steam train and visited where thee Brontes were from aided by a pic nic and some lovely tea shops. Today we had a lazy morning (plus jabs) and then took a pic nic down to the allotment where Mum and Dad helped me to do a huge amount of work. I am now harvesting lots of veg too- potatoes, spring onions, onions, radishes, green beans and courgettes (spinach, carrots, butternut squash and salad leaves on their way!). I am actually joining mum and dad again tomorrow as i am going to london for Lauras Olympic party. I have bought 5 hula rings in the olympic colours to make a huge symbol for the party. It will be nice to catch up with the London folk. Coming back up north on Saturday as simon will be back from Cardiff.

How did the gambling go in LV? not long to go now... XX

  anna Jul 31, 2008 8:08 AM


Hallo you two!

That has to be the longest blog ever - will you beat the record before you finish?! Your road experiences sound just a tiny bit more exciting than Manchester to London on the M6/M1 - no obvious farmers to talk to, no funny signs, and certainly no good food on the way. The food didn't bother us as Anna had packed us some tasty nibbles. If I'd been up the CN tower in that storm I think I'd left after the soup!
Lots of love
Mum xx

  Mum B Jul 31, 2008 8:25 PM


Note to Phil....they don't make suit trousers beyond a 36...easy on those Beef tacos son! Sarah, best take him into hand..

Glad to see you're living it all to the full..take care.


  Mike Aug 4, 2008 8:46 AM

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